Governance 3.0: The evolution of the public sector

The government is on the brink of transformation. Call it Governance 3.0. An evolution driven by technology, policy and institutional change is shaping the current model of governance into something new. Its trajectory is unclear, but one thing is certain: Change will happen.

Alan Balutis expounds on those ideas in a recent book, “Transforming American Governance: Rebooting the Public Square,” which he co-edited with Terry Buss and Dwight Ink. Read an excerpt here. For more than a decade, Balutis served as CIO of the Commerce Department. He was also a founding member of the federal CIO Council, where he led strategic planning and outreach committees.

After 30 years in government, academia, industry and the nonprofit sector, Balutis joined Cisco Systems, where he is a distinguished fellow and senior director in the firm’s Internet Business Solutions Group. He’s also a fellow at the National Academy of Public Administration.

Balutis spoke recently with Federal Computer Week staff writer Camille Tuutti about the book’s origins and how the challenges we’re facing offer an unprecedented opportunity to transform government.

The book was quite an interesting project to work on. It grew out of discussions at the National Academy of Public Administration, where a number of people came together, partly convened by Don Kettl, who’s the dean of the School of Public Policy [at the University of Maryland]. We started discussing this phrase that was being repeated again and again after [the 2001 terrorist attacks] that “everything changed.” In fact, not everything did change; the government remained remarkably the same.

If you brought somebody back through some kind of time tunnel — someone who [had worked] in government in the 1950s or 1960s — they might initially be awed by some of the new technology they saw. But within a short period of time, they’d get to feeling relatively comfortable because, to a large extent, the way government does human resources, acquisitions, financial management, budgeting and the like remains remarkably the same.

Government hasn't budged

Companies have dramatically reinvented themselves, and I don’t think they’re doing business like they used to even 10 or 15 years ago. Government has remained the same since the Hoover Commissions of the ’40s and ’50s [made recommendations for administrative changes to government]. Some people have spoken about this phenomenon, [including] Don Kettl. There has been a lot of talk about governments around the world and elsewhere in the United States — especially at the state and local levels, where they’ve had to deal with fiscal pressures that are now facing the federal government in a very stark way.

What can we learn from looking at some of those new and different models that are emerging? That’s what we tried to pull together in the book — multiple perspectives of the issues in arenas such as homeland security and the finance field, and perspectives from overseas and also some views on what has happened before in times of crisis. That’s the backdrop and focus of the book, and I’m very pleased with the way it came together. I think it’s very timely given what we’re seeing happening in government today, where we have the confluence of the multiplicity of challenges that exist: the fiscal pressures [and] the generational shift that occurs every 30 years.

We have the whole baby boom generation that came into government. Many in the Kennedy era are leaving now, and a couple of new generations, both Gen X and Gen Y, are ready to assume senior management and executive positions. The powerful technologies that exist that we refer to as the Internet 2.0 and the collaborative and social networking technologies that allow us to approach issues in different ways — those [issues], in a nutshell, are what we’re trying to deal with in the book.

Change is under way

To some extent, we’re seeing an emergence already [of new governance] in some localities and some state governments, [including in] the U.K. and Australia. It’s not the United States alone that has to deal with the [complexity] of challenges in an aging population and an aging population that’s driving up a lot of the costs of government through Social Security-like pensions and self-insurance programs similar to Medicare and Medicaid. That’s a global phenomenon.

The hope is that this kind of perfect storm of challenges — fiscal pressures, generational shift, and the availability and prevalence of technologies — is something we ought to take advantage of. Instead of worrying so much about the retirement tsunami, we’ve got to see this as an opportunity to move out a generation and ensure the right amount of knowledge transfer on key issues and data points before they’ve imprinted too much of the bad habits of past generations.

We’ve moved toward a style of operations in companies and societies where you expect immediate interaction and feedback. With my older son and daughter, if they’re in touch with me about something [and] they don’t hear from me within a matter of hours, they [interpret it] as there’s something wrong. [The public] expects immediate interaction and feedback, not a government that measures things in months or years rather than in hours or days. Increasingly, it’s the expectations of the citizens that set what they get in their interactions with business communities. Their expectations are increasingly that the government ought to be the same.

We’re already beginning to see the manifestations of citizens taking the lead more in co-production and services, pointing out where cities have potholes that need to be filled or safety issues that need to be resolved and sending that information in real time with the expectation that it gets resolved quickly.

I think this confluence of a perfect storm of the things I noted earlier is an opportunity for us today to take advantage. I hope and expect that’s the kind of thing we begin to see in a more stark and dramatic fashion in the next three or five years. It’s something that really has to happen if we’re going to deal with the fiscal pressures and other challenges that governments face today.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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